Frequently Asked Questions
Q: I saw a map from Suffolk County that covers the entire bay with farms, is that an accurate representation of the active farms?
A: No. LIOGA is developing a map that shows active lease sites where the farmers are cultivating, growing and harvesting oysters on their 10-acre leases. The Suffolk County Aquaculture Lease Program map, which many aquaculture opponents reference, represents the entire body of lease sites (“cultivation zone”) that are hypothetically available to shellfish farmers. In reality, the County programmatically grants a maximum of 60 additional acres (six, 10-acre sites) per year for a maximum of 600 acres in the initial 10-year period. This represents only 1.6% utilization by private shellfish aquaculture interests of the 30,000 acres of identified cultivation zone and less than 1% of the entire 158,056 acre estuary (See Maps). Of this real growing footprint, an even smaller area is used for “floating gear” – approximately 5% of the 600 acres allocated in the initial 10-year period.
Q: Is it true that shellfish aquaculture is good for the environment?
A: Yes! Long Island oysters filter approximately 900 million gallons of water every single day. That is the same as filtering 1,500 Olympic size pools every day and 500,000 Olympic size pools every year. Through filtering, they remove organic and inorganic particles from the water column resulting in cleaner water. This positively impacts the environment which results in other species flourishing which in turn improves the fishing for recreational and commercial uses. Oysters farms provide essential nursery habitat for recreational and commercially valuable finfish species. The farms often turn into honey holes for fishing due to all of the bait fish that seek refuge on the gear. Mature oysters also spawn while they are on the farm potentially helping to form a natural reef nearby that would otherwise not exist.
Q: Is it true that the Suffolk County Lease Program was initially developed to remediate our estuaries?
A: Yes! The program was initially established when New York State ceded title to approximately 100,000 acres of water lands to Suffolk County in 2004, not only as an economic growth program, but also a way to help remediate our estuaries. Since its inception, the importance of shellfish cultivation, especially oysters, has become more apparent. The program benefits the health of the estuary and provides livelihoods within our communities. According to the Environment Impact Statement (EIS) program summary, our use of the estuary shows no environmental impact and in fact has a net environmental benefit!
Q: Is the shellfish aquaculture new to New York?
A: No. It’s been an integral part of indigenous cultures for millennia and for colonists since the 1700s. In fact, shellfish aquaculture is one of New York State’s oldest industries, predating modern local giants like finance and technology. As early as the 1820s, “on-bottom” oyster culture was occurring in New York harbor to meet the City’s insatiable demand, growing ‘seed’ oysters from the Chesapeake Bay to market size. Following the spread of industrial factory and sewage pollution in New York Harbor in the mid- to late-19th century, the State of New York ceded lands underwater in the Peconic Bay Estuary to Suffolk County in 1884 for the purpose of private oyster aquaculture. Prior to the modern ‘hatchery-based’ system, in which oysters are bred in captivity for aquaculture seedstock, private oyster growers grew ‘seed’ oysters in the Peconic Bay from Connecticut rivers to market size for consumption in New York City and export to London, France, and other points across the Atlantic. At that point in time, New York was the ‘oyster capital of the world.’
Q: I have started seeing more Long Island Oysters on the menu at my favorite restaurants. It seems to be good for the local economy, is that true?
A: Yes! The Long Island oyster industry generates over $30 million dollars a year for New York State. We stand to exceed that in the future but can only do that with the continued support from individuals like yourself, local communities and local legislators. Many of us operate our farms year round and therefore are active participants in the community and local economy throughout the year as well.
Q: Someone told me farmed fish practices are bad. Are farmed oyster practices bad too?
A: No. The practices used in farming oysters require no input of food like finfish farms which means no extra Nitrogen or Carbon is added to the water for our oysters to grow, no antibiotics are administered and any escaped oyster stock is actually positive. Wherever it lands on the bay bottom, it will remain and add to the natural cultivation of wild oyster reefs.
Q: I have noticed floating surface gear on some farms and not on others. Can those farmers with floating gear change to another method that is less visible?
A: Unfortunately, this is not a yes or no answer. Oysters and other shellfish can be cultured in a variety of different cage, bag, and rack type equipment. The shellfish grower typically experiments with different varieties of gear on his/her site to determine which type works best on a site-specific basis. Floating gear is one variety that utilizes flotation to hold oyster bags or cages in the top two feet of the water column. This type of gear is particularly well-adapted for growing on sites with soft bottom sediments like many areas of Napeague Bay as well as others throughout the Suffolk County Aquaculture Lease Program. Shifting soft bottoms in these areas would suffocate oysters grown in bottom cages or bottom culture.
Design, layout and marking of all shellfish growing gear is regulated by the United States Army Corps of Engineers, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and the United States Coast Guard.
Q: If I find missing shellfish gear on the beach, is there a way to contact the farmer?
A: Yes! And thank you for looking out for our farmers! All cages/gear are required to have identifiable tags with the farmer’s permit number and phone number. We all utilize these requirements and are in the process of adopting Best Management Practices (BMP’s) within LIOGA. We realize this is an inconvenience, but we strive to mitigate any gear loss. The public's safety and health is of the upmost importance to all farmers. Additionally, all farms/farmers assets are insured and businesses protected.
Q: Even though oysters filter so many impurities out of the water, are they still healthy to eat?
A: Yes! Oysters sequester excess Nitrogen and Carbon by consuming excess algae that could otherwise fuel harmful algae blooms reducing our bay's water quality. Not only are they delicious but are an incredibly sustainable source of protein and low in calories.They are high in omega – 3 fatty acids, potassium and magnesium which can help reduce your risk of heart attack, stroke and lower blood pressure. Oysters are a good source of other essential nutrients including vitamins A, E, and C, zinc, iron, calcium, selenium, and vitamin B12. One serving of 4 oysters provide you with a complete daily supply of copper, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and zinc!
Q: I saw in the news that some shellfish farms use pesticides. Is this practice taking place in Long Island?
A: No. Pesticides are not used in shellfish cultivation on Long Island. LIOGA farmers pride themselves on the positive environmental factors of growing shellfish. NYSDEC regularly tests our harvest waters so they can be classified as harvestable. You can view the areas closed to shellfish harvest by clicking HERE. Pesticide use occurred on the West Coast only and is not a standard practice for shellfish farming.